There is nothing more common in startup land than to hear the advice of remaining focused. I used to believe this myself, but recently I’ve changed my view. I’ve changed my view because I think we focus too soon. We tend to focus when we think the idea or the space is we are playing in is hot. We should only focus once we have real in market validation. While there are many measures which validate a concept, media coverage does not amount to market validation. We have to remember the objectives of the media – especially when it comes to technology industries. What they want to do is the following:
- Report on something new
- Try and predict new trends and what’s next
- Fill up their pages for traffic (fill the void)
Just because what we might be doing is interesting and different, doesn’t mean it will get traction in market. In fact, sometimes media coverage in the early phases of a startup is an indication the idea itself might be bad. They cover the new and the shiny, which could mean we’ll have a much harder job ahead of us in changing behaviour and redefining how something is done.
I think we can take a lesson from the old fisherman we see on the shore line. They tend to cast a lot of lines in the water and employ the multi-fishing rod strategy. Not knowing which one will get a bite. They use different bate and different sized sinkers. Some lines are cast far from the shore, while others are much closer. They are looking for validation, for a bite. And once they get a bite, they’ll focus on that particular fishing rod and reel it in. Focus, post validation, not before.
When it comes to non-fishing startups we need to look for real in market validation. Real usage growth and revenue are the simplest. And once we have that, we can start to focus without folly.
I’m totally in love with Modern Seinfeld on Twitter (@seinfeldtoday). Each day I tune into the stream hoping for some more tweets which serve up 140 more characters of Seinfeld goodness. For the uninitiated, Modern Seinfeld is an ‘unofficial’ tweet stream in which each tweet is the synopsis for a fictional modern day Seinfeld episode. It really is the stuff of genius.
But it has another possibly unintended benefit. It’s also a short cut to an understanding of the world we live in. For anyone who has been asleep for the past 15 years, and missed out on the revolution, then all they need to do is tune into this twitter feed. 397 tweet reads later and they’ll be all over digital pop culture. Check out these doozies below as examples:
The other cool thing, is that the real Jerry hasn’t done anything ridiculous like asking them to take it down due to copyright infringement. Which is exactly what we’d expect from many old world media owners.
While Wikipedia doesn’t run any adverting on it’s, it sure knows how to write a copy line to sell it’s fundraising. If you’re like me, Wikipedia has become an indispensable life resource for self learning and contribution to society. So giving something back is dame fine idea for a non-profit like Wikipedia, but like all things it does take something to get us across the line from intention to action. This was the line that inspired me to take action.
….”If everyone reading this gave $5, our fundraiser would be done within an hour.”….
To me this line is close to perfect. It tells us so much with so few words. A small amount from it’s readers in a ‘moment of time’ would do it. It’s a clear indication that it’s part of the fabric of our everyday existence, and that all it takes is a little from many. It was enough for me to tip in the paltry sum of $30. And the additional message from Jimmy Wales is also some great copy writing. Seen below.
If something is delivering us great value, then it’s worth us giving back so it doesn’t change its shape into something less attractive.
It seems every other day I read another story about mainstream media just not getting the shift we are seeing in the landscape. The most recent example is the idea of international TV programs being fast tracked to Australia. That is, them not waiting to show it in a perceived ‘peak ratings’ period in our country, but just showing it as soon as it is available.
One such program that is touted as being on the ‘fast track’ to Australia is Homeland. A really terrific edgy show which was a ratings boon in Australia for series 1. Channel 10 in Australia screened the first series in January this year to more than 1.2 million viewers. This was 3 months after the USA premier. Yet the ‘so called’ fast tracked 2nd series averaged a disappointing 630,000 viewers. Some commentators including this one postulated that ‘fast tracking’ doesn’t work. Claiming that ‘downloads are minimal’ ( WTF?) and that it is better to promote heavily and program in a strong period.
It’s clear to me that he doesn’t get it. A few points to note:
- Fast tracking should be ‘the next day’. Not 3 weeks after the US shows as channel 10 is doing – way too slow.
- The second season rated poorly because people loved the first one and didn’t want to wait.
- Fact – second seasons of successful shows have significantly higher download rates than first seasons. #obvious?
I could go on… But the simplest fact of all is this – mainstream media are still serving their model, not the model the customer want. This is why successful businesses of yesteryear rarely survive a technology disruption as a front runner.
With great change, comes great tension. This tension often leads to a split between the opposing forces from which re-alignment may never occur. A favourite past time of many of us is predicting a winner – the eventual pattern that we’ll all follow.
No category is less pervasive in this arena than technology. But in reality it is becoming less and less about winners and losers, and much more about choice, fragmentation and tribes. An old axiom by Stewart Brand we’ll all remember is the one about “information wanting to be free”…. but it turns out that this story has an oft left out post script: He immediately added after this that “information also wants to be expensive”, which was a far less quoted caveat.
In a world were control is dissipating, and startups are changing everything, we ought remember that both directions can be equally valid.
I’m convinced that pretty much everything is getting cheaper as time progresses. Relative to incomes there are not many things I can think of that have increased in price over time (excluding property). I wrote about this in a recent business manifesto post:
Omnipresent Deflation – While tabloids decry the rising cost of living and most everything we purchase, the reality is the opposite of what is being reported. Energy, housing, technology, entertainment and even food are all getting cheaper in ‘real terms’. Rapid technological change, Moore’s law and developing nation labour forces will ensure this continues. It’s creating the great business revenue maintenance challenge as we quickly move the price of ‘free’.
This is good news for startups. The barriers to entry have been infinitely reduced to well, almost nothing. One such service that is so cheap it is ridiculous is fiverr.com While it may not represent a bastion of quality, there sure is a lot of interesting services one can get for $5. Some of which could form interesting fun stuff to pimp your new brand. Many of these services could never have been available at such low prices… while many would never exist at all without the craziness that goes with all things web. Here’s a few of my fav’s from Fiverr:
Another case of the tail getting longer and the impact of connected labour.
Just when it feels like it’s all been done, it seems that the next idea will just take that niche a little further, and they’ll be some people who demand it too.
Most Seinfeld fans are in raptures about the new series by Jerry Seinfeld – Comedians in cars getting coffee.
It’s so good on so many levels. But it’s not the just humour that is worth commenting on, it’s the way the series has been presented to the market place. It has been launched on it’s own website comediansincarsgettingcoffee.com and hosted by video sharing website Crackle.com (which is owned by Sony). It’s a classic example of the strength of personal branding (admittedly there is possibly non bigger than Jerry) and the hacker approach the web brings to those with a brand strong enough to self publish. Going direct to fans not only enables one maintain creative integrity and control, but invents all sorts of monetization possibilities.
At this stage I can’t see where the financial win is for Jerry or Crackle (Crackle is free with little evidence of advertising?), while the deal between the 2 parties is also unclear. One thing for sure, is that this model is one we are going to see far more often – big stars and micro entrepreneurs going direct to market – to create the art and projects they want to create. Another comedian who did a great job of this approach was Louis CK who also decided to sell tickets to his fans direct from his website. This all reminds me of one of the great visionary talks from Garry V who predicted this a few years ago.
Smart brands and people are now going straight the web. It’s not about asking how we can ‘also use the web’ but it is a simple web first or maybe even web only mentality. Controlling our own distribution channels matters more than ever. The fact is it works better for most people to do business directly and it allows fans and content creators (or sellers) to have the direct relationship they’ve always wanted.